Patrick Kennedy’s choice could start Dems’ exodus

February 13, 2010

U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s abrupt announcement that he’s not seeking re-election to Congress has gleeful Republicans eyeing incumbent New England Democrats and asking, “Who’s next?”

“Long-term incumbents who don’t have a fire in their belly are in trouble,” said GOP consultant Ron Kaufman, in response to news the Rhode Island congressman is stepping aside. “There’s an anti-incumbent fever, and that helps Republicans.”

In Massachusetts, the National Republican Congressional Committee – tasting victory after the come-from-behind Senate win of Scott Brown last month – has targeted U.S. Rep. William Delahunt and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas – both from districts where Brown won the majority of communities.

Those two Democrats have also shown sluggish fund-raising, and Delahunt has refused to even commit to seeking re-election.

“Delahunt and other New England Democrats who have voted in lockstep with (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi will pay a price on Election Day,” said National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Tory Mazzola.

Tsongas (D-Lowell) vowed to fight for re-election and said Brown’s surprise win gave Democrats an early wake-up call.

“As a candidate you have to earn every vote,” said Tsongas, who faces two GOP challengers. “I do think in this election we heard voters’ anger and frustration. I hear it when I’m in my district, but I’m working for them on bread-and-butter issues on a daily basis.”

Former state Treasurer Joseph Malone, who is considering running against Delahunt (D-Quincy), said Kennedy’s resignation has fed rumors that Delahunt will also bow out.

“My feeling is whether he runs or not, this is a very winnable seat, and the reason why it’s winnable is because Bill Delahunt has gone far in the liberal direction,” Malone said.

Democrats are also facing stiff competition in the Granite State, where U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-Rochester) was bested by GOP challenger Frank Guinta in a recent independent poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire and WMUR-TV (Ch. 9).

“I think you’re seeing the voters are angry, they’re frustrated and they’re taking that out on incumbents and in particular Democrats,” said Guinta, who is the former mayor of Manchester, N.H. “We’re really starting to feel the tide is changing, and many Democrats in New England are becoming vulnerable.”

Shirpal Shah, spokesman for the National Democratic Campaign Committee, said Kennedy’s resignation isn’t expected to trigger a rash of Democratic incumbent departures. He added that the national party is better funded and able to take on challengers.

“I think everyone takes the Brown victory seriously, and they’re taking precautions to ensure victories in November,” said former Democratic state committee chair Phil Johnston. “Everyone is aware of the anger among the electorate and that it’s legitimate and needs to be addressed.”

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